Queensland's success in the 1980s, the early years of the State of Origin series between Queensland and New South Wales, in addition to the inclusion of a combined Brisbane Rugby League team in the mid-week competition, convinced the New South Wales Rugby League (NSWRL) to invite a Queensland-based team into the competition. After tough competition between the various syndicates for the Brisbane license, the Queensland Rugby League chose the bid of former Brisbane Rugby League (BRL) players, Barry Maranta and Paul "Porky" Morgan.
The Broncos secured the services of Australian Kangaroos captain Wally Lewis and former BRL coach Wayne Bennett. The team made their debut in the NSWRL's 1988 Winfield Cup premiership against reigning premiers, the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, and defeated them 44–10. However after this promising start they failed to make the finals. In their second season they won the mid-week knockout competition, the 1989 Panasonic Cup. The club first tasted premiership success in 1992, and again in 1993, defeating the St. George Dragons in both years.
In 1995, the Super League War broke out. After threats of expulsion from the NSWRL, the Broncos were one of the last clubs to sign with the new league and all players followed suit (The Canberra Raiders, Canterbury Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks were the first to sign, and it was only revealed many years later that the Broncos were in fact one of the last clubs to sign for either competition). Broncos CEO John Ribot moved to take over the running of the rebel Super League, leading to a perception that the conflict was orchestrated by the club. Brisbane won the only Super League premiership in 1997, before winning the first National Rugby League trophy in the re-unified 1998 competition.
1999 was disappointing for the club with a terrible early-season form hindering their attempt at a third consecutive premiership losing 8 of their first 10 matches. Club legend Allan Langer retired mid-season, perhaps as a result of the team's form. Despite the club's mid-season turnaround, which resulted in qualification for the finals after an 11-match winning streak, the team was eliminated by the Cronulla Sharks in the first week of the finals. However, the Broncos' rebounded in 2000 with their fifth premiership, defeating the Sydney Roosters. The game marked the retirement of veterans Kevin Walters and Michael Hancock.
Allan Langer returned to the club in 2002 for one season before eventually retiring. 2002 was also the beginning of Brisbane's "post-Origin slump", which has haunted the club in the years since. Many players represent Queensland in the State of Origin series, with 7 Broncos players on average included in the Queensland Origin team. This extra workload has caused a loss of form for the club immediately after the series, evidenced in 2003 when the ladder-leading Broncos lost 10 of their last 11 games. Despite faring better in 2004 and 2005, the team still struggled in the latter stages of the season, losing all of their finals matches.
In 2006, after a strong early and mid-season performance, the Broncos again entered the post-Origin slump, losing 5 consecutive games. However, they reversed this run of form, winning 6 of their last 7 games including the premiership decider against the Melbourne Storm and keeping their perfect Grand Final record intact. After a dismal 2007 season in which they only scraped into the finals, coach Wayne Bennett announced he would leave at the end of 2008 after twenty-one years as coach. Ivan Henjak, a former rugby league player who had been assistant coach with the Broncos since the beginning of 2006, was named their second-ever coach, commencing as coach for the 2009 season. Their 2009 season included their worst-ever post-Origin slump, featuring three matches in a row where the opposing team scored more than 40 points, concluding with a 56–0 loss to Canberra on 1 August 2009. They rallied around and in their match against Penrith two rounds later, they won 58–24. This snapback (after Penrith, they won the rest of their games that season) got them into the finals for the 18th year running, but they fell against Melbourne in the 3rd preliminary final by 40–10.
Their 2010 season started moderately: a 30–24 win against North Queensland, a 14–22 loss to Canberra, and a 48–16 hammering by the Warriors on 28 March 2010. On Monday 29 March, former Broncos player and recruitment agent Allan Langer was caught drink-driving in Brisbane's northside.
Apart from a late season 10–6 win against eventual premiers St George Illawarra, the 2010 season was one to forget; with injuries and poor form seeing the Broncos out of the finals for the first time since 1991. The Broncos missing the finals now means that every club has missed the finals at least once since the 2002 season.
In February 2011, it was announced that Ivan Henjak was to be sacked from the club, only three weeks before the beginning of the season. Anthony Griffin took over as coach for the 2011 season, becoming just the third head coach in the history of the Brisbane Broncos. He led the club to a third place finish at the end of the season, losing to eventual premiers Manly in the preliminary finals.
2012 marked the Broncos' 25th season in the NRL competition. They finished eighth on the premiership ladder, and were knocked out of the finals in the first week, losing 33–16 to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
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